In the past few weeks I’ve spent in New York City, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for the extent of religious persecution the pilgrims who originally fled to America must have felt. I mean, sure, I always imagined they must have had things pretty hard. To have upped sticks from the comforts of the Netherlands, or wherever else they were, and set out to completely uncharted (in their minds) territory must have taken a lot of guts. And would necessarily have been encouraged by a deep level of fear, discomfort, and oppression in their homeland. But sweating my way down yet another city sidewalk on yet another unbearably hot afternoon, I thought to myself—what were those pilgrims thinking. And then, of course, I realised, they must have been thinking that they didn’t have much of a choice. Things must have been so bad at home they were willing to brave not only the high seas, uncertain futures with native peoples, and seemingly uncivilised conditions. They even endured the weather. Winters and summers alike.
Watching the news the other night, I was struck by the banality with which the newscasters delivered their news of inhumanity. I only lasted through two news items. The first was about five members of the US military in Iraq, who had been charged with raping a 14 year old girl and murdering her, and the rest of her family, in their home. To add insult to injury, the entire incident appears heart wrenchingly pre-planned. The soldiers allegedly changed into civilian clothes before they left their barracks, went to the girl’s house, committed their alleged crimes, and then returned to their barracks and changed back into their uniforms. At the end of the story, the screen went to a still photograph of a different US soldier killed in Iraq some months back. Remember our dead, the motto at the bottom of the screen said, Sgt So-And-So, died April 2006 in an attack in Iraq.
Yes, of course America wants to remember the more than 2,800 soldiers who have been killed in Iraq in the past few years. But heaven forbid they should dwell too long on the over 40,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the process.
In the following story, the newscasters expressed their shock at how “clever” alleged terrorists were. The anchorman seemed personally offended that one particular “Al Qaeda suspect” had the nerve to drink, smoke and womanise. Even while he was allegedly training up on his “terror tactics in the name of Islam.” He questioned whether this person was “genuinely fundamentalist,” and was trying to be so under cover that he sacrificed his religious principles to act the part of a wealthy playboy, or if he was really just a violent, drinking womaniser who had latched on to terrorism not out of any particular religious conviction. But even more than the reporter’s questions of the “terrorist’s” religious beliefs, he seemed offended that such people would disguise themselves so completely. The gist of the argument was, essentially—if these potential terrorists have the nerve to go to bars and dance halls and strip clubs, how will America ever stop terrorism. Because, clearly, tracking would-be terrorists down and locking them up or killing them is a much more effective deterrent than actually changing US foreign policy—including ending the war in Iraq—so that the “would be terrorists” have less fuel for their understandable outrage.
At which point trying to understand American news, or knowing what to do about it, all became too much.
The pilgrims must’ve been desperate. But maybe they also benefited from the allure of the unknown. The potential ability to create an entirely new reality for themselves, by conveniently ignoring the reality the existing population in “The New World” experienced. Personally, though, I think I’m inclined to fight my own repressive dictatorship, than to try and take on the Evil Empire. Even with the inflation, and the shortages, and the desperation, it feels more manageable. And best of all, the weather’s better.